Pretty Much Packed

As a family of four, with twenty-five kilos luggage allowance each, we've a whole hundred kilos of stuff to pack into two bags. Currently the spare room looks like the inside of a removal van. I can almost fit everything I'm taking into my pockets, but Lottie and Ben have an outfit for every eventuality.

We're just about ready, and as long as I don't develop a hernia lifting all this stuff into the car to the airport, we should be fine.

We fly out from Teesside Airport tomorrow morning to Heathrow, where we connect for JFK.

May 01, 2005.

Computer Says No

Well we were anticipating travel problems along the way; we just hadn't expected them so early in the trip. We arrived at Teesside airport to be told that due to a computer error, our flight would leave ninety minutes late, meaning we would miss our connection to New York.

Anyway we did miss our 14:00 flight and had to take the 18:00 instead. This was only frustrating in as much as we'd planned the timings to try to minimise sleep disruption.

So at least we're now in NY, which is great. The bad news is it's 3am and we're all wide-awake. Lottie keeps asking 'when will it be morning?'. I've tried, unsuccessfully, to explain the whole timezone thing. Turns out I'm not exactly sure how it all works myself.

May 03, 2005.

Health and Safety

Highlights today included a superb playground in Madison Square, a trip up the Empire State building, a two-hour post-prandial nap, then a walk along Broadway to Times Square then on to Grand Central station.

Interestingly, I was reprimanded twice in the Empire State building (at ground level I hasten to add) for carrying Ben on my shoulders. It's a health and safety issue. Apparently. Yet two blocks away someone would happily sell me a gun over the counter without batting an eyelid. I think their phrase is 'go figure'.

The children are adjusting well to local time, but the real test will be tomorrow's wake up time.

May 04, 2005.

Central Park

So maybe the children haven't quite got this whole new timezone thing yet. We started the day at zero five hundred hours this morning and were almost first in the breakfast queue. We'd hit the subway by 08:15 and we rode out to Central Park. It's huge; bigger than a giant Lottie commented. And she's right.

We spent some time in another great playground. On our return I suspect the swings in Sedgefield won't have quite the same appeal as they once had.

We bought another buggy today so that we can transport both children through their midday nap. Despite this, neither Lottie nor Ben decided to take advantage of this new facility and didn't sleep a wink. I'm not entirely sure how we're going to transport this additional piece of luggage on subsequent plane journeys. I suspect we may have to charter a Hercules all of our own.

We ate at a Cuban café for lunch, and in the afternoon we tried to visit the Guggenheim museum. Unfortunately they don't allow 'strollers' by which time we had two, so we gave it a miss. Instead we went to the Natural History museum. Despite the dinosaur room being closed, it was great and well worth a visit.

We battled the rush hour home on the subway, and ended the day with a hotdog picnic in our hotel room. I do hope housekeeping has access to a carpet cleaner.

Today we've all missed the midday nap and consequently been more cranky-pants than square-pants. Nevertheless it's been another full-on day and we're looking forward to more of the same tomorrow.

May 05, 2005.

I'm a Lady

The children slept until six this morning, making us almost dangerously late for breakfast. By now we've got the breakfast thing well rehearsed, and give or take a wobbly table or choking infant it has become a reasonably relaxed affair.

America seems to have legitimised eating cake for breakfast. Whilst uptight Brits sit in salivatory anticipation until tea-time, our transatlantic cousins seem only to get out of bed on the promise of a doughnut, muffin or indeed anything my grandmother would have categorised broadly as 'fancies'.

Following our early morning cakefest we took the subway down to south Manhattan. The trains were really busy and we looked totally incongruous travelling through the financial district with two strollers. We messed up initially and missed a change, so ended up walking miles underground to reconnect on the right line. We were both struck by the willingness of others to help us with the buggies up and down the stairs; a total contrast to my experience of finding volunteers back home.

From Battery Park we caught the ferry to Liberty Island and took photos of the statue which is of ambiguous gender. Ben would point and shout 'man', whereupon Lottie would correct him by saying 'no it's a lady'. Whatever. What they did agree on is that it's not a torch held aloft in the right hand but an ice-cream.

We travelled on to Ellis Island from there, but the combination of history, culture and four flights of stairs proved too big an emotional and physical challenge. So we went to the café and shipped on out.

Rather than jump straight back on the subway we walked back through the financial district. We passed Ground Zero and were struck by the enormity of the whole thing; the event, the tragedy and the gap in the skyline. Almost four years on, the newspapers here are full of the story of the rejection of the plans for a replacement tower which is apparently too vulnerable to attack.

We ate this evening's meal close to the hotel at a place called 'Tony's'. Tony might not be the cleanest kid in town, but he did feed us all for less than nine quid. Ben kept the other hobos, sorry, diners, amused throughout by shouting 'tax-eeeee' each time a yellow cab drove by, which was about every fifteen seconds.

Anyway, unless I'm struck down by 'Tony's revenge' more tomorrow.

May 06, 2005.

It's All Happening at the Zoo

We woke at a civilised 06:00 again this morning and began the day by sorting out some hand washing. We've consciously not brought heaps of clothes with us to save on weight. The downside is that we'll have to wash our stuff at least once a week. I never give much thought to the washing machine back home, but as I was scrubbing about in the bath, I gave thanks to the God of all time saving devices.

We broke with tradition this morning and ate out for breakfast. I'll not bore you with the details but it was mostly fried and then covered in maple syrup. Splendid.

Following breakfast we caught the subway up to Central Park, this time to visit the zoo. I'm not a huge fan of caged animals, and the last time I was at a zoo I was attacked by a free-range monkey. So I wasn't really looking forward to the visit as much as the children. Having said all that, it was very sensitively done and the sight of polar bears swimming underwater is something that will stay with me for some time.

Our next stop was the Museum of Modern Art. On the way we passed FAO Schwartz, which I’d never heard of, but Bec told me was a world famous toyshop, so we went inside. Lottie was wide-eyed and even as an adult I was very taken in. Had it have fitted into our cases I would have been very tempted to have bought the twenty-foot stuffed giraffe. A snip at only ten thousand dollars; worth it just to see the look on our neighbours’ faces as it grazed their eucalyptus trees over the fence.

MoMA was a bit disappointing. Admittedly we didn't do it justice, as the kids were getting fractious by this stage. The photography exhibition was weak, the Andy Warhol stuff was as you'd expect and the rest was a mixture of the usual Pollocks.

Ben was eager to climb up anything that was sculpted and to his defence much of it looked near identical to the climbing frames he'd been using all week. Oh and MoMA prohibits all forms of shoulder mounted infant transportation.

We finished the day in a tex-mex restaurant and as usual were all bathed and jim-jamed up by seven o’clock.

And what of the election huh? We learned of the result via the BBC News website on this new fangled Internet thing. Free wireless Internet access in our hotel room means it's like we've never left home. And email from friends and enemies back home is cool too. Besides it's cheaper than postcards and almost as quick.

May 07, 2005.

Reward Offered

Lottie and Ben have finally adjusted to New York time and today we woke at a positively sloth-like 07:00. By the time we got down to breakfast it was standing room only, so we stole some bagels and returned to our room to grind them into the carpet.

We chose not to use the subway today, but rather walked south down past the Flatiron building, to Union Square (where there was a farmers' market of all things), through Greenwich Village and into SoHo. We had planned to continue into Chinatown but the volume of people on the streets was just too high to manoeuvre two buggies without being nunchucked.

SoHo has the best collection of shops I'd ever seen in one place. Highlights included the Apple Store and the Patagonia shop. The whole place is a sea of retail über-cool. I don't even like Apple Macs yet the slate and birch of their flagship store was almost enough to make me move to the dark side. Anyway, I got a grip of myself and left without so much as an iPod.

Unsurprisingly the children were less impressed with what was turning out to be an average Saturday schlep round the shops for them. There was a reasonable amount of crying which we stymied with food bribes. Contrary to advice from most parenting manuals, there isn't much that the promise of a trip to the swings via Ben & Jerry's won't get you.

In amongst our urban adventurings we had a setback of significant proportion. Ben lost clothy. For those of you who have not had the pleasure, clothy is an eight-inch square of red and cream striped silk. Almost without exception it is covered in snot and spittle. Picking it up is like wrestling a jellyfish, but Ben loves it unconditionally. Anyway, it's gone. Lost forever. Somewhere between Broadway and Chinatown. Probably.

We do have a reserve, but we were hoping not to have to introduce it as early as day six. As a precautionary measure, the reserve is now not even allowed out of the travel cot. It's that serious.

On a lighter note, we've had email from many of you. Please keep them coming; your reports of miserable weather and tiresome working conditions only serves to heighten our pleasure.

May 08, 2005.

Mind the Gap

Our last full day in New York began just after six, and after yesterday's log-jam in the breakfast room we were keen to take pole position at the bagel counter. So not long after seven we we'd been fed, watered and were raring to go.

We were headed to the Children's Museum of Manhattan and so took the subway uptown. The subway was much quieter than usual; the only other passengers were drunks, vicars, drunk vicars and other parents of insomniac offspring.

The whole Sunday morning thing was very relaxing. In fact I was sufficiently relaxed not to notice Rebecca trying to squeeze out of the train door behind me. I heard her shout my name and then turned around to lip-read a stream of expletives through the window of the now closed doors. And so the train hurtled off towards the Bronx leaving Lottie and me on the platform.

Lottie was quick to ask why mummy hadn't got off and asked if we'd ever see her and Ben again. I told her not to worry and take comfort in the fact that at least she was with the parent with the wallet, subway ticket and sweets. That seemed to cheer her up.

Luckily in the nanoseconds following our unexpected separation we had managed to concoct an elaborate system of entirely unprepared hand signals that suggested I should stay where I was and that she would ride to the next stop, get off, cross the platform then take the next train downtown. Suffice to say it requires greater effort on behalf of the gesticulator than the relatively simple 'Can I have the bill?' or 'Do you want a brew?'.

Lottie and I had run out of sweets by the time the others returned. Still it wasn't all bad news as we were soon at the Museum. Dr Seuss and Dora The Explorer were the order of the day and we spent a jolly morning amongst the exhibits.

After lunch we headed back into Central Park via The North Face store. Central Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon is a sight to behold. People really do sit and play chess on the park benches. There was a fabulous al fresco roller disco where people were strutting their stuff in eighties gear. For the first time in about fifteen years I looked quite stylish. It just looked like I’d forgotten my skates.

It was here that I saw my first ever segway. Reliant on gyroscopic sensors, these battery-powered devices were going radically transform the face of human transportation. Well five years on it looks like they’ve come no further than the local roller disco. Tomorrow's World, it's the kiss of death.

We wandered on past Strawberry Fields, a memorial to John Lennon. I spent several moments trying to work out the significance of the simple inscription 'I'm a genie' until my pop-picker wife set me straight.

Afterwards we went to the carousel, a traditional fairground affair with proper wooden horses. None of your poor facsimile Postman Pat vans and Ninja Turtles in the wrong colours here; this was the real deal. I have to say it was absolutely out of this world. Hard to say who enjoyed it most, us or the children.

We finished the day with hot dogs in the park, a great end to a superb afternoon.

Tomorrow we fly out to Toronto. We'll be sad to leave New York; it's been better than we'd ever dared to consider. It's cleaner, more friendly and better suited for infants than we'd imagined.

We've had a great time and Lottie summed it up perfectly this evening when she asked if we could come and live here. And why not?

May 09, 2005.